Joho the Blog » net neutrality

April 20, 2012

Neelie Kroes: European Commission’s voice for the open Internet

Neelie Kroes is becoming one of the open Internet’s most influential supporters.

Kroes is Vice President of the European Commission and is responsible for its “digital agenda.” At the Forum d’Avignon I was at (see here and here) she was just about the only person in a positon of power — economic or regulatory — to suggest that the Internet is actually a good thing for culture, and that we need new ways to think about copyright and distribution. Yesterday she gave a speech at the World Wide Web Conference in Lyon in which she called for new thinking to support an open Internet. Most importantly, she explicitly recognized that openness is indeed the property from which the rest of the Net’s value springs.

That a leader of the EC responsible for the “digital agenda” understands this shouldn’t be news. But it is. She even cites Yochai Benkler. Go Neelie!

Her talk begins by nailing its main point:

The best thing about the Internet is that it is open. Indeed it’s built on the idea that every device can talk to every other, using a common, open language. That’s what explains its seemingly endless growth.

Exactly right! Thank you, I’ll be here all week, drive safe, and God bless.

She goes on to explain the many benefits openness brings: “…choice and competition; innovation and opportunity; freedom and democratic accountability.” “Look at what we could do if we opened up our public sectors and put their data online.” She touts open standards. She points to political benefits: “And just look at what openness can do for freedom of speech. The Internet gives a voice to the powerless, and holds the powerful to account.”

Then she turns to the factors that impede openness:

Sometimes the problem is ancient, pre-digital rules that we need to cut back or make more flexible. Other times, openness actually flows from strengthening regulation.

She goes on to say that sometimes it’s about changing a “mindset,” not changing the rules. She says that we need an environment were different models are available and can compete. For example, some people want open discussions and some want moderated forums. We should have all types so people can choose. Likewise, we should have many different business models. People who want to be compensated monetarily for their deserve to be, although many are happy to give away what they’ve created. She says:

Look at the complicating licensing systems for copyrighted material here in Europe. These guarantee that Europeans miss out on great content, they discourage business innovation, and they fail to serve the creative people in whose name they were established.

Woohoo!

After nodding to the need for security and privacy, she gets down to the infrastructure level:

…open competition, brought by the EU, has delivered for Europe. It offers consumers better deals and new, tailored services; market players new opportunities; and potential investors legal certainty.

She states her firm commitment to net neutrality. She is fine with having many market choices, including for cheaper plans that provide limited bandwidth, or access designed for specialized preferences. But, she says, there must always be truly open, neutral access, and she points to the BEREC study due in May that should tell us whether in Europe truly open access is being offered to everyone as an option.

Great speech, especially from a person in her position.

So, let me tell you my one concern. Kroes’ idea of openness means that the Net ecosystem should support the option for closed systems for those who want them: It needs to support copyright and it needs to support offerings from access providers that limit access. In theory there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when you try to engineer an open system to support closed options. So, even the most crazed copyright supporter (let’s just call him, oh I don’t know, “Sarkozy”) is happy to let people give away their own content if they should be nutty enough to want to do so. But to support the “equal and opposite” option of being able to sell content, Sarkozy wants to rejigger the entire system to prevent “piracy.” If you want to offer the closed option with sufficient rigor to prevent all violations, the system would need to become closed. Kroes is certainly not advocating that closure, but the piece I feel is missing from her talk is the recognition that the value of openness surpasses the value that would come from a system engineered to so scrupulously protect IP. We have to accept some degree of risk for IP in order to have the openness that brings us the values Kroes is so eloquent about.

Likewise, I have no problem with access providers offering plans with data caps or that throttle bandwidth (assuming they’re transparent about it); that does not violate my idea of net neutrality. But there are conceivable plans for “specialist user needs” (as Kroes calls them) that would be discriminatory: A plan that gives priority to the delivery of movies (for example) would give those movie bits priority over the non-movie bits that other users of the Net care about. Personally, I think the best protection for the open Internet is structural separation: access providers sell you access — including tiered services — but are not allowed to sell either content or services that discriminate among bits. I don’t know where Kroes stands on this, but again I would have preferred a clear statement about it.

But now I’m just being greedy. Neelie Kroes is an Internet champion at time when we desperately need one.

2 Comments »

March 22, 2012

Harold Feld’s explanation of an FCC issue you probably are paying no attention to but that is likely to determine the fate of telecommunications in the US

In fact, Harold’s post is so long that I’m only half way through it, but I have to leave for a plane. In it he explains in some detail the history and ramifications of… well, here’s a taste from near the beginning:

…Verizon graciously offered to buy out Cox’s AWS spectrum so that Cox could get out of the wireless business. And, in what can only be an amazing coincidence for utterly independent agreements that should in no way make anyone think that the major cable players are colluding with their Telco/Wireless chief rival, Verizon and Spectrumco offered to let Cox in on the same three agreements to become exclusive resllers and become a member of the “Joint Operating Entity” (JOE) to develop all these cool new technologies.
So you see, it’s all totally innocent, and does not in the least look like a cartel agreeing not to compete, dividing up markets, and setting up a Joint Operating Entity so they can continue to meet and discuss their business plans on an ongoing basis while developing a patent portfolio to use against competitors like DISH and T-Mobile…

Harold Feld works for Public Knowledge, which works for an open Internet.

3 Comments »

February 29, 2012

Apple blocking books that link to Amazon

Seth Godin reports that the Apple store is refusing to carry his new book:

I just found out that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is rejecting my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and won’t carry it in their store because inside the manifesto are links to buy the books I mention in the bibliography.

Quoting here from their note to me, rejecting the book: “Multiple links to Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) store…

We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon.

Seth is properly nervous about imposing demands on private companies about what they will or will not carry. But he finds what I think is the right argument in this case. first, the online marketplace for books simply as a matter of fact is dominated by three players: Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. This dominance imposes particular responsibilities for keeping such a crucial enabler of our culture open. Second, the vertical integration of this market — the dominate sellers of ebook hardware are also the dominant sellers of ebooks — imposes a similar cultural obligation.

Seth concludes:

I think that Amazon and Apple and B&N need to take a deep breath and make a decision on principle: what’s inside the book shouldn’t be of concern to a bookstore with a substantial choke on the marketplace. If it’s legal, they ought to let people read it if they choose to.

(PS: It is genuinely irrelevant that the example of a book Seth was linking to is Too Big to Know. Although it pleases me to be linked to by Seth :)

30 Comments »

February 11, 2012

It was NOPA to SOPA, but now stop ACTA from becoming a FACTA

To quote Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing: “Stop ACTA & TPP: Tell your country’s officials: NEVER use secretive trade agreements to meddle with the Internet. Our freedoms depend on it!” ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is a global trade agreement that’s like SOPA except that it’s secret and does not require legislative approval. TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) is a secret 9-country deal (including the US) that is even more restrictive than ACTA.

Today is a day of international protest. Please consider registering your concern via this form from Fight For the Future.

 

Stop ACTA & TPP: Tell your country’s officials: NEVER use secretive trade agreements to meddle with the Internet. Our freedoms depend on it!

For European users, this form will email every Member of the European Parliament with a known email address.
Fight For The Future may contact you about future campaigns. We will never share your email with anyone. Privacy Policy

1 Comment »

February 10, 2012

Power politics in the age of Google

[live-blogged yesterday] I’ve come in 30 minutes late (Sorry! I had it marked wrong on my schedule) to a panel at the Kennedy School about politics and the Net. The panel is outstanding: Susan Crawford, Micah Sifry, Nicco Mele, Alexis Ohanian [reddit] and Elaine Kamarck, moderated by Alex Jones.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

As I enter, Susan is saying that SOPA was put forward to make PIPA [Senate version] look reasonable, but it obviously backfired. But, she warns, the type of concerted effort that defeated SOPA is special and rare; we can’t count on it happening again.

Nicco says that Google has doubled its lobbying budget, spending $10M this past year. But it hasn’t made much of a dent against the tight relationships among the entertainment industry lobbyists and Congress. “This is not the end of this issue,” he says, referring to the battle over Hollywood content. “It’s more like a battle in the middle of the opening third.” He adds, “The power of the grassroots to shape and drive the debate…was a shock to the insular world inside the Beltway.”

Alex: Suppose there had been the outcry but not the going dark? Was it going dark that did it?

Nicco: It was an expression of the intensity of the situation. It might have had the same outcome. Google didn’t go dark and drove a huge amount of traffic to anti-SOPA sites.

Susan: Google joined a parade smaller sites like Reddit.com had started.

Alex: Is this a watershed moment?

Elaine: No. Sometimes DC gets things wrong. E.g., a Medicare bill was repealed after 16 months because the seniors went nuts about it. This was pre-Internet. “Old ladies were throwing rotten eggs at Dan Rostenkowski.” Also, in 2006 there were local protests against a bipartisan immigration reform law. SOPA was a perfect example of a bunch of old guys — Chris Dodd et al. — not understanding that they were playing with fire. They didn’t take into account the intensity the Net citizens felt. There’s nothing fundamentally different from what we’ve seen before: Sometimes the folks in Washington just don’t get it.

Alex: We tried to get people on the other side to join us, but I’ll take their side. An op-ed yesterday said that the anti-SOPA digital tsunami was an abuse of democracy.

Micah: That was a frustrating op-ed because he doesn’t imagine that the citizens who were linking and faxing had agency. He assumes they were all duped by Google etc. Citizens can inform themselves, make up their minds, and take action. That said, I think it’s worth noting that some of these companies have immense power. It’s fair to ask how far can they responsibly use that power? I’d argue that most of these companies are in a more responsive relationship to their users than much of old media, especially not Hollywood and the recording industry. They are far more likely to listen to their customers and respond to them. Also, anyone who raises the issue of abusive media power needs to be asked how Fox News helped create the Tea Party Movement, cheerleading people to go to the first rallies. The media coverage on Fox took place before the manifestation of what it was “covering.” For me the fact that the anti-SOPA movement was a civic-commercial hybrid is fascinating.

Alex: Truman ordered the Army to bust up a train strike. Google and the Web overall have become the nervous system of the world. At what point does the power of a privately owned nervous system becomes so great that its even considering withholding services becomes inappropriate?

Alexis: The op-ed was malarkey. All sites are made equal, so if Wikipedia closed down for a week, there would be a new instance of it almost immediately. Likewise if the search engines went down. It is such a frictionless market.

Susan: Legally, infrastructure like transportation and physical access lines is different from the content. When it comes to train line or someone providing cable access to your home, there are extraordinarily high start-up costs. They can be natural monopolies since it may not make sense to have more than one. Google is not a natural monopoly.

Elaine: Laying a transatlantic cable is a big, expensive undertaking. Those infrastructure companies are governed like utilities. The Net access providers claim that they should be able to charge Google more for carrying their content, and that battle will play out over the next decade. So, there are clashes, but the SOPA battle isn’t like that. The US federal govt is not prepared to think about governing the Net. You can see this in its approach to cybersecurity. There’s a nasty cycle: cybercrime is one of those crimes you can pretty much guarantee you’re never going to be caught at. We’re not ready as a country to think about regulating the Net to prevent it. The MPAA and RIAA are really not ready to deal with this. They’re playing an old game. They and a lot of people in Washington don’t understand the issues.

Alex: What are the issues where the govt ought to be thinking about regulation?

Nicco: I don’t think we have a handle on these issues yet. Our leaders lack a fundamental understanding. One way to deal with this would be to introduce a mandatory retirement age for Congress. [it's a joke, sort of.] They’re fundamentally out of touch with how most Americans are living their lives.

Alex: How seriously should we take Anonymous? The nihilistic impulse and incredible skill?

Micah: It’s hard to generalize about Anonymous. It’s a shape shifter. I asked someone researching them if she could assure me that they’re not the Russian Mafia. She said she couldn’t; you just don’t know. And it’s not just Anonymous: the Arabs and Israelis are going after each other. We should also keep in mind that on sites like Reddit.com and CraigsList.com you get daily acts of altruism.

Susan: User empowerment/agency is almost always the right reaction to bad acts and bad speech.

Alex: How about identifying malefactors?

Micah: It’s a good thing you can’t. If we reengineered the Net so you could, the people who would be hunted down would mainly by dissidents. It’s a double-sided sword.

Elaine: You’ve expressed the Zeitgeist of the Net. At some point, criminals will get smarter and will steal billions of dollars from people on Facebook. There’s a crisis point for the Net coming. It won’t be shut down, but it will fundamentally change. It’s not inconceivable that in 20 yrs will have a different Net because people will demand it because someone will have stolen thousands of dollars from us all, or they will withdraw from the one Net and instead will form cloistered nets.

Susan: I agree. There will be a meltdown and people will react with fear. We need to train our reps to understand what the Net is so that they can have an intelligent response.

Alexis: People are afraid of hackers. But the problem is that security is terrible. Banks need to take online security much more seriously.

Alex: Has Wikileaks changed the way people share info?

Susan: The State Dept. no longer shares cables with the Defense Dept.

Alexis: The weak point is always human.

Micah: When I hear you talking about criminals attacking the banks, I think the criminals are running the banks. We’re moving away from trust in centralized institutions and more trust in ourselves. I mentioned Kickstarter.com at the start of this panel [missed it!], and it’s taking off to the extent that in Detroit they’re starting to refer to it as a grassroots WPA. Nicco and I think that the anti-SOPA moment was different because it wasn’t just a shout, but it was when a large community began to realize its own power to shift how things work.

Elaine: Seniors aren’t an interest group?

Micah: Yes, but they worked through a single lobbying group.

Susan: Now they have network.

Alex: But you said we can’t do this too many times…

Suan: But now that the Internet community can see itself, it is forming new associations and networks…

Alex: Hollywood doesn’t seem interested in working together…

Alexis: Hollywood should see the Net as another channel to make money. 10% of the entries at Sundance this year were funded by fans via Kickstarter.

Alex: The anti-SOPA group spanned politics. Matt Drudge was part of it. Are either the Dems or the Repubs better at this?

Alexis: It’s become a political issue.

[And just under the wire, Micah gets in a Google-Santorum joke.]

Q: The Net can be brought down any time…
Susan: It would be extremely difficult to bring it down. The root servers are echoed all over the world. The real risk is that physical cables between companies can be cut. We have too few Internet providers. The great thing about the Net is that it works just well enough — a best-effort network. The NSA has a tremendous amount of info about the threats and attacks. That info should be shared with the operators of the networks and banks in ways that are safe for them so they can cooperate. But you don’t want to burn the village to save it.

Q: What are the lessons from SOPA for citizens and for smaller sites?
Alexis: It’s easy to put up a one-off site to help organize and get attention. That just takes some html and a good idea.
Nicco: How much do you think of Reddit as a political force?
Alexis: It’s not. The people there are. The SOPA protest bubbled up from subreddits. At that point it got the attention of the staff. For us, it was 12 hours of lost revenues, but traffic was up the next day. We built Reddit as a meritocracy. We strive to make sure that if something comes to the front page, it’s genuinely popular.

Nicco: The point of the Constitution is to regulate lunatic populism.

Elaine: No, you take populism into account when governing.

Nicco: Someday Reddit’s mgt may be faced with a decision about going against the community’s preferences.

Alex: The huge anti-SOPA outpouring was only about 10M, which is less than a plebiscite.

Elaine: This is an issue with no clear answer. They heard the outcry, and the reps who had signed on without reading the bill pulled back. This happens not just with Net issues. E.g., Cap and Trade.

Q: [me] Is there a Net constituency, Net values, and does the Net shape political consciousness?
Micah: We’re seeing a change in consciousness: a willingness to dig and share. The Net is conducive to those values, although not everyone who uses it will share those values. But many of these sites have constituencies. This is a sharing economy. The Net is enabling something that was always there in American culture: barn raisings, rent sharing. And some of the things you can do are organically natural: I don’t think you can convince 75M American teens that they’re all thieves. And they’re going to be voters. They’re going to ask what sorts of businesses they can build on top of that sharing.

Q: Alexis, how have you been tweeting during this panel?
A: Katrina has been tweeting in my name. That’s trust!

Q: Tim Wu has made a compelling argument that historically information empires start out open and then become monopolies. Google is young and it’s already finishing our sentences [auto-complete], which is a powerful way of shaping consciousness. The more people are searching, the easier it is to improve your service, so there are economies of scale in search. Hence, monopolies could emerge that have serious barriers to entry.
Nicco: The history of personal computers + connectivity is about empowering individuals and making it easier for small things to destroy big things. I’m not convinced that Google’s advantage is large enough to make it a monopoly.
Micah: I worry that Google can manipulate search results in undisclosed ways. If they favor results that favor their own products, which they’re starting to do now, they’re taking a risk. Their value is that they give us the best results, and if they don’t do that, other sites may get traction. And if they start favoring their own products they can be accused of antitrust violations. They have immense power and I don’t see how to get them to be more transparent without giving up trade secrets.
Alexis: We’re allies with Google as a matter of convenience. If they started lobbying in DC against Net interests, everyone would abandon them. And we think when it comes to building products, we could beat ‘em.

Q: Google is becoming a content producer. Might they switch to pro-SOPA?
Alexis: I don’t know, but if they did, we’d line up against them.

Q: People in this room could switch search engines, but for many people, it’d be harder.
Susan: There’s something about the Google logo that’s like the clown in a horror movie. They haven’t broadened their model beyond targeting ads. Antitrust authorities look at Google very hard. The FTC and DoJ are watching.

Q: Why didn’t Facebook protest SOPA?
Micah: FB is one of the more serious monsters. They signed onto some of the letters but there was no serious activity by the leaders. They want to get into China and don’t want the Chinese govt to think they’re a platform for dissension. Interpret all their actions in that context.
Susa: They see themselves like a media property. They’re the ESPN of the network. Watch FB’s relationship with the carriers. They’re going to want special treatment so that FB becomes the Internet for you. AOL tried it and Americans loved it.

2 Comments »

January 26, 2012

European Parliament has official look into ACTA. He then resigns in disgust.

From Techdirt:

Kader Arif, the “rapporteur” for ACTA, has quit that role in disgust over the process behind getting the EU to sign onto ACTA. A rapporteur is a person “appointed by a deliberative body to investigate an issue.” However, it appears his investigation of ACTA didn’t make him very pleased:

I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.

As rapporteur of this text, I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens’ legitimate demands.” …

ACTA is what SOPA would be if you believed in global conspiracies writing secret agreements to do roughly the same thing. Except ACTA is real. This is not one of the issues where the Obama administration, which I overall enthusiastically support, is making me real happy.

1 Comment »

January 10, 2012

Going dark for SOPA

Reddit is going to go dark for 12 hours to protest SOPA. The community is going to decide what will be on the page. Well done, Reddit! I hope other sites join in. (Reddit is claiming some credit for moving Paul Ryan from neutral to anti-SOPA. It’s fascinating to watch what Reddit is becoming.)

BlackOutSopa.org lets you paste a “Stop SOPA” banner across your Twitter photo with just one click. They also let you remove it once we’ve won.

6 Comments »

November 30, 2011

Are “data hogs” the problem?

Benoît Felten and Herman Wagter have published a follow up to their 2009 article “Is the ‘bandwidth hog’ a myth?.” The new article (for sale, but Benoit summarizes it on his blog) analyzes data from a mid-size North American ISP and confirms their original analysis: Data caps are at best a crude tool for targeting the users who most affect the amount of available bandwidth.

Read Benoît’s post for the details (or at least a fairly detailed overview of the details). But here’s the gist:

Benoît and Herman looked at the actual usage data in five minute increments of broadband customers sharing a single aggregation link. They looked both at the total number of megabytes being downloaded (= data consumption) and the number of megabits per second being used (= bandwidth usage).

They found that there is indeed a set of users who download a whole lot: “The top 1% of data consumers…account for 20% of the overall consumption.” But half of these “Very Heavy consumers” are doing so on plans that give them only 3Mbps, as opposed to the highest tier of this particular ISP, which is 6Mbps. So, even with their heavy consumption, their bandwidth usage is already limited. Further, if you look at who is using the most bandwidth during peak hours, 85.3% of the bandwidth is being used by those are not Very Heavy users.

Here’s the point. ISP assumes that Very Heavy users (= “data hogs” = “people who use the bandwidth they’re paying for”) are responsible for clogging the digital arteries. So, the ISPs measure data consumption in order to preserve bandwidth. But, according to Benoît and Herman’s data, the vast bulk of bandwidth during the times when bandwidth is scarce (= peak hours) is not taken up by the Very Heavy users. Thus, punishing people for downloading too much inhibits the wrong people. Data consumption is not a good measure of critical broadband usage.

Put differently: “42% of all customers (and nearly 48% of active customers) are amongst the top 10% of bandwidth users at one point or another during peak hours.” The problem therefore is not “data hogs.” It’s people going about their normal business of using the Net during the most convenient hours.

I asked Benoît (via email) what he thinks would be a more effective and fair way of limiting usage during peak hours, and he replied:

throttling everyone indiscriminately during actual peaks (ie. not predetermined times that could be considered peak) would be a fairer solution, although the cost of implementing that should be weighed against the cost of increasing the capacity in the aggregation, core and transit. The economics don’t necessarily work. And of course, that would affect all users, and might create dissatisfaction. But it would be fair and more effective.

In any case, the data suggest that “data hogs” are not the main culprits causing bandwidth scarcity. The real problem is you and me using our bandwidth non-hoggishly.

4 Comments »

November 18, 2011

[avignon] President Sarkozy

They move us into the grand hall — vaulted ceilings — for a talk by Pres. Nikolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has not exactly been a friend of the Internet. The last time I heard him talk was at LeWeb when he was a candidate. Among the three candidates who spoke there, Sarkozy’s talk was clearly the most hostile to the Internet, viewing it primarily as a site of gossip and slander.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing A SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

President Sarkozy: I was going to give a prepared speech but instead will speak off the cuff. Never before have cultural protagonists — politicians, heads of gov’t — had to make so many efforts to come up with imaginative, new responses to the challenges that humans have never had to face before. I know my presence here surprised some observers. Why talk about culture in such a crisis? Because culture is the bedrock, and the bedrock of our response. The French response to the crisis is to invest massively in culture and anything having to do with culture. That is the French way of doing things. France believes that cultural goods are essential goods. That is the basis of the choices we have made. To live, man needs to feed himself, be healthy, and needs culture. France is the only developed country that has not cut into its cultural budgets — and around in Europe cultural budgets are being cut 20, 30, 50% — but we have increased those budgets.

I’m an optimist. The world has never needed cultural protagonists the way we do now. You give life sense, you build links, you create collective sense. The offshoot of globalization is that citizens need a sense of belonging to their country. What better way than through the adhesion to one’s culture.

Why have we had to show such boldness? Because all cultural protagonists are facing a crisis of distribution. This is a matter of extreme seriousness, if we consider — as I consider — it is no service to culture to say that it is free for all. The disappearance of traditional distribution methods threatens traditional culture itself. You used to go to a record store or a DVD store. That is shattered. So, we have to reengineer a viable economic model from A to Z. This is not simply a matter of imaging. You have to be courageous. I will be blunt. I have always believed that there would be no form of creation if there were no longer to be respect for upholding and respect for copyright and author’s rights. This is of the essence and shapes all the rest.

Bon Marche invented the very concept of author’s rights. A musician has ownership over the music he writes. An author has ownership over the book he publishes. To deny the ownership of artists on their work amounts to negating all forms of creation. What was the status of creators before they had ownership? They were simply court jesters. Those were the lucky ones. Your predecessors long ago might find a benefactor who fell in love with a particular musician’s works and would protect him. What enabled artists to break out of that yoke? What give musicians and writers independence and freedom? What enabled them to recovery their ownership. Copyright. The idea that you could live on the benefits of what you created. There is no independence when you rely exclusively on the genersoity of benefactors.

I am determined not to accept that a tech revolution, even as positive as the Net in other respects, should call into question the ownership rights of a creator over his or her works. To challenge that is to acknowledge anuy economy of culture.

Why is it so complex? I remember the 2005-6 debate where people on my side said you shouldn’t defend these ideas even if they’re right because youth will rise up against you. But one should not renounce one’s beliefs simply because you have to explain things to people before you persuade them. I even had people say I would lose this election if I did not understand this extraordinary revolution that has turned all on its head. We imposed, against much resistance, legislation (HADOPI) against piracy and to protect author’s rights.

I don’t want there to be any ambiguity, so I want to respond to those who ultimately believed what I believe, but decided not to defend a just idea for political reasons.

First, I was indeed elected as president. One can uphold copyright without alienating the majority of people. People are down to earth and can understand if you explain it.

Second, I was told I lost that war. Piracy is part of people’s lives, I was told. When I saw certain sites where daily newspapers were offering their articles free and people weren’t buying the paper any more. How little respect you have for what you do! And how stupid to think that people would pay for what they would get for free. Within a few months of HADOPI, there was a 35% drop in privacy, so the battle wasn’t lost. The internet society has to be guided by rules, just as real society is. The great USA went about it our way. NZ, S Korea likewise. The battle is not lost.

Now we have to tackle the streaming web sites and there is no reason not to do so. What was ambiguous was that p2p pirating was based on an ideology that was based on an initially positive ideology: sharing. The approach wasn’t in and of itself negative. On streaming sites the ideology of sharing has gone out the window; they’re about making money.

They claimed I’m a fanatic. But HADOPI is just a means to an end. Tech is evolving, so the law must too. All we want to do is protect author’s rights. Once the principle of protecting author’s rights is enshrined, why not?

And at the Digital E8, I said lets invite the Net giants to talk with us. I was told that they’d think we’re trying to gag them. When you invite people to talk, you’re not gagging them. So, we sat down and talked, and there was no tension. The idea is not to protect our backyard but to pull these worlds together. The Net revolution is a phenomenally positive development, but we need to talk. And to utter the forbidden word: Taxation. [Google pays no taxes in France.] I cannot accept that these companies pay no taxes in France. You can’t have all your clients in one customer and your team in another customer, and pay taxes ina third country where the taxes are the lowest.

We can support this Net revolution while still talking with Google, Zuckerberg, Microsoft, and talk about author’s rights, taxations, the fact that the latest Marakesh bombing was done by someone who discovered how to make a home-made bomb on the Internet.

In our mind, there isn’t an opposition between the Net world and cultural world. There is a need to get together, speak the same language, lay the foundations for an economy that is viable for Net giants and creators and that doesn’t ruin what the creators create. Culture is an investment that will get us out of this crisis, not a mere expenditure that one can cut back on. Culture is not a luxury. So, I felt it my duty to be here you in this beautiful city, even though there are heavier burdens to shoulder.

Q: I’m a Bollywood actress and writer. I am French. I am also Indian. Completely both. For me culture means the ability to choose among our own passions, and not the ideas that are fashionable. For this we need cultural diversity. So: What is culture?
A: For me, culture is meaning. “Culture is the response one gets when one wonders what one is doing on Earth?” [He's quoting someone I couldn't get.] What gives our life meaning. There is a spiritual and cultural answer to this. Culture is the only area in which there is no notion of progress because culture is the only way man has found to better his condition. When you go to L’escaux Caves you realize it’s the Sistine Chapel of the time — the same sense of transcendence, getting man out of the Kantian chains that bind us. If I take off my head of state cap, I would simply say that culture is an investment. France welcomes 20M tourists a year. What would France be without its culture? If I look at it as a politician, culture is what binds a society. It is the lifeblood. It is why men and women do not know one another share common emotions. Without culture there is no sense of nationhood. If I were to speak as a reader or listener, culture is emotion. A special sort of emotion experience by the composer or writer, but that has universal value. The more personal the feelings expressed, the more unique, the more universal. And, to come around full circle, how can you define culture as what it is not. It is not that extra bit of soul — I hate that expression — for the well-fed society that can afford it. It is not part of the whole. It is the whole. From culture you achieve cohesiveness. You don’t have life and then the spangle of culture. Culture is our identity. Finally, what is culture not? It is the very opposite of sectarianism, of the accepted dogma, of conservativism, of the sheep mentality, of the Pavlovian reflex, of the automatic geographical alignment, of the concern for image at whatever cost.

Q: I am an American anthropologist from India. It is music to my ears to hear that music is a necessity. If there were no investment in culture, my discipline would disappear, which would not be a sorry for the world, but would be for us anthropologists. When you make it clear that culture is a non-negotiable priority even or especially in this time of fiscal crisis, how can make this argument in other countries? Can you draw on your experience with other locations?

A: Need only look at what has happened throughout the world. When the Spanish steel industry was swept around, the city of Bilbao was ruined because its economy rested on it. They made a tremendous wager, betting on architectural quality (Frank Gehry) and culture (Guggenheim Museum). Bilbao generates 220 million euros because of this. Bilbao was saved by cultural investment. When Germany reunited, they decided that the capital would be in Berlin, and built an exceptional capital. Culture is what Berlin has to offer. They’ve had a time attracting companies to Berlin, so real estate prices have stayed low, attracting artists. But 13% of the jobs in Berlin are in the arts and culture. Liverpool’s response in the crisis was to invest massively in cultural terms, and it worked. The cities of the Ruhr are another example. I have had to make painful decisions in Moselle [?] and Metz [spelling!] where 30% of jobs were military. We had to redeploy bases and barracks once my predecessor, Chirac, abolished compulsory military service. So, we abolished military jobs. The implications were colossal. So, we decided to build the Bourbon [?] Center in Metz. It received more than one million visitors. We’re going to dig our heels on this. We’re going to build a Louvre in Lens [?], which has suffered two brutal revolutions: the collapse of the mining industry and the textile crisis. That will project will be a success. We’ll have the museum of the Mediterranean in Marseilles. The Impressionists housed in the ___ museum, the dream I have is of a magnificent museum in Normandy. When the crisis befell us, we came up with a plan to relaunch the economy which included 400B euros worth of additional money for culture. I think there were 83 cathedrals needed to be restored, of hwihc 50 have been restored. And the living arts! Art is always living art — people go on stage and perform. We have not touched one penny of that money. It is our certainty that the best way to respond to the crisis is to invest in culture, just as in aerospace. And if you look at the history of art, creation has never been better than in countries that feel good about themselves. The two phenomena are intimately interconnected. When I look at French cinema, I think Thank heavens our predecessors set up systems that I have done everything to protect. That’s why the French film industry is not in the situation of some of our neighbors that have seen their film industries go down the drain. I may be bold but I have a sense of risk.

Q: [A film maker - Vanya [?]] Barbara Hendricks this morning said that art is as important as air and water, and you said the same. I am a member of Culture and Diversity. Our goal is create cultural opportunities for poor kids. We want to bring them toward art and art schools, but often the importance of art is often quite removed from their lives. They receive art passively through tv, internet and films. But they have little opportunity to be active. What can we do?

A: Look at the extraordinary way the US puts films, music, etc., at service of their economic interests. The brands take root. I’m not saying it’s deliberate, but it works. There’s a steamrolling effect. The generosity of French artists and film directors is equaled elsewhere. We are very happy to screen American films and show American artworks. We do want our American friends to remember that there are other countries. That’s another debate. Reciprocity has to exist in the cultural industry. Beyond exchange. We have to be able to defend this principle. It’s not just the under-privileged. The privileged don’t always appreciate culture. We want to use this extraordinary instrument — the 5,000 colleges in France — to create the new audiences for opera, theater, film, etc. We have started a program where we by the rights to 200 films and make them available to all these colleges. This was not a way of competing with the film industry, but the idea was that if you start watching films in college, you will continue as an adult. We have 264 national theaters, 600 theater troupes, a huge reservoir of plays. But where are the audiences? I’d like to see these plays, once they have toured, to go to the colleges and schools, to shape and form the audiences of tomorrow. Take opera. The cost of a seat is pretty prohibitive, yet the operas are full. I’d like to buy up the rights to these operas and enable these shows to play in schools and colleges. Then there are underprivileged. We’re taking an initiative bringing exhibitions…going out to meet the people. In one case only 19% had ever been in a museum. We’re trying to decentralize, e.g., the Mobile Pompidou exhibition. It’s a simple stage under a tent so people aren’t intimidated. Suddenly they lay their eyes on a Picasso. Can you imagine the effect? That work of art now is not foreign. It’s part of one’s village. Culture is too often sensed as foreign. Whatever you background, when you set your eyes on a work of art, you appreciate it. There is no pre-determinism. Art’s value should be self-evident. You walk down the street and see something beautiful. You don’t need to be told or have it explained. The more you know the more you need to be told. When it’s simply about emotion, nothing needs to be explained to you. [Wow is that false. And it's inconsistent with his Net views. If we respond to art without training, then why hasn't the Net clustered around works of art?]

Q: How about free access to museums?

A: I don’t think that’s the ultimate response because you don’t respect what is free. Everything has a price. Everything has a value. There has to be a bit of an effort for there to be pleasure. But we have for 18-25 and teachers access to museums should be free. The number of visits as a result of this decision: 2.7M youths have gone in. Teachers: 500K. Culture is an amazing, fantastic domain that holds true. You have to be pragmatic, generous, open-minded. I am against access to museums being free because they need to sustain themselves. But for young people and teachers this was a good move. If teachers don’t get into the habit of going to museums, how can their pupils learn.

Q: [a Swedish student] Ever since I was a child, I wanted to make a difference. First as a poet. Then wanting to become the Sect’y General of the UN. My generation was born into the Internet. We invented Facebook, Skype, and Spotify. This has changed how we communicate and interact, across borders. From my point of view, these are great developments. Culture is beautiful and is in all that we do and are. Everything that isn’t developing is degenerating. Values are changing. Why is the defense of IP fundamental in your policy? Isn’t it in opposition to access to culture you’ve stood up for? Isn’t the fight against piracy a hopeless case.

A: I see haven’t persuaded all of you. An artist who wants music to be disseminated free of charge always has that option. I am challenging the pirating of works who do not want that. Who would buy the film or music if you can access it free of charge. There is now a quite cheap offering on the market. It’s right that you should pay less for a record or CD you buy on the Internet. For music we’re going to set up a system comparable to the CNC system we set up for film. I want providers to contribute musical creation just as a certain number of actors contribute to creation in the film industry. Just as there’s a national film center (CNC) there should be a national music one, which should be partially funded by the providers. When there are no writers or music, what is your generation going to get? For music there has to be composers, for films etc. If they don’t have ownership, what will they become of them? The famous will remain in the catalog until their rights fall into the public domain. If your first film or record is not enough to live on, how will you do the second? I asked Zuckerberg — who is remarkable and I admire — if he’d like his work pinched, and he said “Of course not.” Explain to me why a famous author or film maker should have fewer rights than those who are not famous. Go ask Google or Microsoft. Don’t tell me I’m not in favor of the free market! We should fight harder for author’s rights! I think it’s beginning to sink in. I know in Sweden, regulation is a dirty word. We defend our rights, but we’re not refusing the Internet. France is where the Net has developed the fastest and the most. Let us not ask the wrong questions. Illegal streaming sites are doing untold damage and I fully intend to fight them. I do not want to see profit made from the simple theft of other people’s work, just as in the national bond issue, I have earmarked a lot of money so Frederic Mitterand can digitize what are in the French national libraries. Big companies wanted to do it, but we said no. Freedom needs laws. Not too many regulations, but when there is no regulation, it is those who have the most clout and fewest scruples win.

Q: When we try to understand the current revolution, we should look back to the Printing Revolution. Technological rev is not only a change in tools, but influences all levels of culture.: distribution, production, communication, and sharing of culture. We have to rethink all aspects concurrently. We need mediation and explanation. With my students we explore other economic models, or a global license. Shouldn’t we try to reconcile technology and our culture in a period of massive piracy?

A: Yes, it’s a massive revolution, but that shouldn’t lead us to turn our backs on our democratic traditions. We have to find the right balance. On a global license: I am completely against this completely crazy idea. I believe that the identification between the author and his work is of the essence. If we all into some kind of melting pot, we are denying everything that is individual and specific. No one is defending this crazy idea. We are indeed facing challenges. E.g., digital TV that puts on the same screen the traditional, regulated services and the Internet world, which is not regulated and that does not contribute to the film industry the way the traditional services do. The latter will be stealing audience share. So we are going to have to work on how to regulate digital, connected TV era. Or, cloud computing: There again, what happens to your private copy that no longer needs to be uploaded? The battle against illegal downloading will become a matter of the past because in cloud computing there won’t be any need to download anything. But as I said initially, we’re ready to have a third or fourth version of our anti-piracy laws. We believe in protecting author’s rights and them getting individual remuneration for their work. The ways and means of doing this will change, and no one could not say that the Net is not a major step in social connection. But we don’t want our democratic principles thrown out the window. Of course we have to regulate and do it within a framework. It takes 3 mins to download a film. We want to be flexible but stick to our fundamental principles.

Q: [economist] I work on the economics of art and culture. You’ve today demonstrated how clearly you understand the connection. You’ve made the tax system a priority in your own cultural policy. The VAT on some cultural goods has risen in France. Is this consistent with your support of culture.

A: For France, the VAT on the same goods should be the same, whether hardcopy of digital versions. I understand the problems that may arise out of this for the European Commission. But as of Jan 1 2012 we’ll apply reduced VAT for hardcopy goods. Why should it be 7% on the Net and 19.6% for hardcopy. The globalization caused by the Net leads to major distortions in competition, which we cannot accept. So, I’m requesting that VAT on digital and ebooks be the same, at a reduced rate. It will be implement on Jan 1., and I hope that the European Commissioner will not come down to us too hard. This is a personal message to her. I do not understand that there should be a VAT differential to books, films, records, music, because in my mind cultural goods are the same and should have equal standing. In France cultural goods are considered to be essential goods, like food. Now, why we have increased VAT from 5.7 to 7% on cultural goods, is a way of protecting that sector; VAT in France is 19%. I cannot ask the French to tighten their belts and hear one sector complain about a rise from 5.7 to 7%. We have maintained VAT at 2.2% for living arts and press. So let no one say we’re being unfair to culture. We have protected the cultural area ferociously. We have smoothed the burden across the board. I hope the EC lets me work calmly on the record industry. I take this very seriously. Your memories are of smell and music. The systematic destruction of the music industry I cannot simply shrug off. That’s why I’m thinking about reduced VAT for music, as I’ve done for films.

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November 12, 2011

Italian Pirate Party to launch today?

While the Pirate Party already has an association in Italy, it seems likely that this afternoon it is going to register as an official party. That’s an exciting and encouraging step.

I of course don’t know what its platform will be, but if it’s similar to that of the other Pirate Parties, then I won’t agree with all of it, but will still welcome its presence as a voice not only for an open Internet — far wider than copyright reform — but for the set of values an open Internet permits: new forms of collaboration, lowering the hurdles to expression, bold experimentation and its concurrent willingness to fail, transparency, and joy in the new possibilities.

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